What Clients Are Really Buying from You

Sometimes it's helpful to step back from all of the positioning and service offering differentiation we play around with and get back to a basic question: what is it that clients are really buying from your agency? It's two things.

  1. Objectivity. This is a big one because they begin to see their forest as just a bunch of trees. Clients (usually) want to hear the truth, untarnished by political considerations or mixed agendas. But how do you provide objectivity? It doesn't happen without a positioning that has put you in similar situations multiple times before so that you can notice and articulate those patterns. That requires great observation and then sometimes the courage to deliver the truth kindly. So expertise + perception + courage = objectivity.
  2. Capacity. More marketing professionals are working on the client side than ever before, but there are still many things that your clients don't have the capacity or aptitude for. You can make a lot of money meeting this need, too, but remember that they come to you for all kinds of reasons, and that's going to impact the nature of the relationship. Sometimes your objectivity is so strikingly on point that this "get it" factor compells them to move to the next stage with you, simply out of fear that another firm won't paint the picture that you've described to them. Other times they just want one throat to choke. And then of course, sometimes they think they can buy it cheaper on the outside instead of building this department they'll be stuck with forever. To keep them coming back for this, they'll expect a certain measure of cost-effectiveness, responsiveness, quality, communication, and project management. The work itself just needs to be good enough, but they won't forgive great work that isn't wrapped up in these things.

You might ask your team to think about this question individually and then get together and discuss it over a purchased lunch in the office. If account people and project managers and researchers and creatives understand how they contribute to this, you'll be pulling in the same direction and it will frame your work in the context that makes sense to clients.

One more note, too. Your positioning should differentiate the first point: objectivity. There is no viable positioning around the second point: capacity. You may not be that replacable doing the first, but there are thousands of replacements for the second. Clients should desperately need you for the first and just find the second part handy. Don't get all comfortable making lots of money on the second. That's further marginalized every year, and you won't be doing hardly any of that in ten or fifteen years.

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